As a health writer, I often have an opportunity to discuss content creation with other practitioners. One of the areas that has been raised over and over is research and referencing. Many practitioners spend hours putting together a single article! And many tell me that research is a big chunk of this time. So should you reference health articles, and when can you skip it? Let’s dive in.
Should You Reference Health Articles?
In short, yes. But it might not be quite as much as what you currently think.
Many of us come out of our degrees being drilled in academic writing and research, which is fantastic. But most of us aren’t working in academic writing. Writing for websites and social media should be far more casual and easy to understand compared to academic writing.
As a result, practitioners are often spending hours researching and putting together articles. Or even worse – they aren’t creating content because writing articles is taking them too long!
So let’s get clear on why you should reference health articles, and where to draw the line between academic writing and content writing.
Why do we reference health articles?
The first step is understanding why we want to research and reference the content we create. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- Ensuring that we’re sharing evidence-based and accurate information
- Demonstrating expertise in a particular area, such as nutrition or herbal medicine
- Building trust with the reader, particularly if they are a potential client
- Continuing our own education on a topic area
- Checking to see if there are any further developments around a condition, nutrient, herb or supplement
- Including specific statistics or findings to make the information shared more substantial
I have noticed another trend in practitioners who reference every sentence in an article. It seems to come from a place of ‘proving’ themselves to be evidence-based. Unfortunately, this seems to be a side effect of many health qualifications coming under fire when it comes to being ‘pseudo-science’.
Who cares if we reference health articles?
There are a few people who might care about what we do reference in our articles if they’re reading them. This includes:
- Clients, particularly those who are academic or come from a science background
- Other practitioners that might want to collaborate on content
- The media, particularly if they are wanting to seek your expert opinion
- The TGA
- Other governing bodies
- People who have found your article during a Google search for research in a particular area
Yes, there are also trolls and people who are seeking to attack natural health practitioners. But from what I’ve seen, referencing articles doesn’t protect you from these types of people. If they intend to go after you, they will.
When to reference health articles
So now that we know why we’re doing it, we can decide when you need to reference and when you might want to skip it. These are my own rules for referencing, not yours. So take what works for you!
I will reference content for three main reasons:
- The information is not well-known in the health realm
- The topic is potentially controversial or likely to attract people who dismiss the information shared
- It includes specific statistics of any kind
When it’s not necessary
So where am I happy to not reference? There’s a couple of times I simply don’t reference, but those are the times that save time!
- When it’s a well-known fact about food and nutrition. You don’t need a reference to say strawberries are high in vitamin C, or that beans are a source of fibre. There’s no one out there to disagree with it, and anyone can find proof of it!
- When it’s a known biological fact. Things like the existence of the gut-brain axis? Every health expert knows that, and most people have some idea of it.
- General opinions. If it’s something I believe, I state that it’s my belief. No one can dispute beliefs like they can with facts!
- Experiences. If you see a pattern of experience in your clients, you’re allowed to say ‘In my clinic, I’ve seen a number of clients who…’. Again, it’s not something that you can dispute, and you’re not claiming that experience is true for everyone!
Remember – simple articles are the best articles
One of the main reasons practitioners get so caught up in research is that they simply go too deep with their content! There’s not much point in having tertiary level content if you don’t have introductory articles. If you have an article that dives right into a rare gut condition, but not a basic gut health article, you’re likely to lose readers quickly.
It’s best to work off the assumption that your readers only have basic knowledge about health. So start broad and work your way down to specifics.
A note on association and registering bodies
Your association or regulating body may have rules around referencing content. If that is the case for you, those rules always come first!
That being said, I would expect that most bodies have similar rules to myself, as there are plenty of doctors, dietitians and the like who write content that is referenced along the same lines.
Which referencing system should I use?
The great thing is that we’re not at uni anymore. So it’s really up to you.
I have the Google Scholar reference button installed on my Chrome browser, so I open that up when I’m on an article and use the cite button. Some of my health writing clients prefer a specific style such as Harvard, but you can use whichever you prefer!
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